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Crash survivor displays aircraft, shares his story

James Davison shows off the single-engine experimental aircraft that he crashed June 2 into a grassy field west of Arlington. - KIRK BOXLEITNER The Arlington Times
James Davison shows off the single-engine experimental aircraft that he crashed June 2 into a grassy field west of Arlington.
— image credit: KIRK BOXLEITNER The Arlington Times

ARLINGTON James Davison wanted to show off his Rutan Vari-Eze aircraft at the Arlington Fly-In.

He got his wish, but not the way he'd hoped for.

Davison was the pilot of the single-engine experimental aircraft that crashed into a grassy field west of Arlington June 2, and from July 9-13, he was displaying the cockpit, which was all that remained of the plane, at the Arlington airport.

The Snohomish resident began flying when he was 18 years old, thanks to his father's aircraft, and while he took a 30-year break from recreational flying starting when he married at the age of 29, he managed to turn his interest in aviation into a career path.

Davison, a former aviation machinist's mate in the Navy, used his engineering degree to become a mechanic at Lincoln Aviation in Nebraska. When he put in an application at Boeing, he moved to Seattle and went on to do mock-ups on planes and helicopters.

"Retirement is a wonderful thing," said Davison, who was finally able to return to recreational flying when he retired in 2001. He inherited parts of his plane from friends, one of whom died of a heart attack and passed it on to another, who had an automobile accident and passed it on in turn to Davison, who completed their work.

The aircraft was licensed at the end of last year and took its first flight in May, during which Davison noticed minor problems with the carburetor that he soon corrected. June 2 was the plane's second flight.

"I was coming from Mount Vernon," Davison said. "My tachometer had quit, so I wanted to get back to Arlington. I entered the traffic pattern, and I thought everything was normal. I don't even remember the engine quitting."

Davison was faced with a decision, between the airfield on his right and the grassy field on his left. He wasn't entirely sure that he could reach the airfield, so it became a simple decision for him to aim for the grassy field.

"I knew that several other experienced pilots had gotten killed recently, so I just focused on flying and not doing anything stupid," Davison said. "I checked my airspeed and altitude, and as I made the final turn toward the grassy field, I was quite happy and proud of myself for how well I'd managed to do it. From there, the memories stop. I don't remember anything else, until I woke up in an ambulance."

Davison recalls only a few seconds of the roughly two hours that followed, as he was placed first in an MRI and then in a hospital bed, and yet, he left his crash with only some soreness in his neck and spinal muscles.

"My accident was of my own making," Davison said. "I was too anxious to get my hours flown off. Even though the ceiling was low enough to be legal, I should have waited for better weather. After five years of building, I wanted to show off at the Fly-In."

Davison will use his mishap as an opportunity to rebuild his aircraft better, and hopes to salvage a number of parts from his old plane.

"I have no idea how long it'll take," Davison said. "I'd like to have it ready for next year's Fly-In, but I don't think I'm going to make the Arlington show. Several people have seen the progress of this plane over the past few years, and now, they've seen this."

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